Bill Offering Grants to Improve School Air Quality Backed by Sen. Cory Booker

A bicameral bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker aims at improving the air quality in schools through a grant program.

Sen. Booker proposed The Clean Air, Sharp Minds Act in partnership with Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) in the House. The bill aims to improve the air quality in schools by providing grants to schools to purchase, install and maintain commercial air filters. The program would invest $20 million over a three-year trial period and would be co-administered by the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

All public schools would be eligible for the grants, with priority given to schools located in highly polluted areas. The bill would finance the installation of air filters in at least 175 schools across the country.

Asthma and Learning

“I can tell you first-hand the devastating impacts that asthma has on kids and their families,” Booker said. “In Newark, we have one of the highest rates of child asthma in the country and this impacts not just our children’s physical health, it impacts their academic performance and their family’s economic well-being. 

Students of color are disproportionately burdened by the negative impacts of air pollution, according to supporters of the bill. Nearly one in six schools serving largely students of color are next to major roads—three times the rate of schools serving predominantly white students. Poor indoor air quality increases the risk of severe asthma attacks and allergic reactions, and asthma is the leading cause of missed school days in the U.S. This is especially pertinent for cities like Newark, where nearly one in four children suffer from asthma, triple the national average.

“In Newark our schools are often located near polluting industries, under the flight path of planes and next to diesel truck routes,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, Director of Environmental Justice and Community Development, Ironbound Community Corporation. “Funding for air filtration in neighborhoods disproportionately impacted by pollution is long overdue. We hope this is the first of many steps in protecting our children’s health.”

Scores Improve

Conversely, evidence exists demonstrating increased student performance by installing air filters in schools. In 2016, test scores at 18 public schools in Los Angeles improved dramatically after commercial air filters were installed in every classroom, office and common area. These gains nearly matched the impact of reducing class sizes by a third, and persisted the following year.

“Air pollution impacts our communities and the health impacts are often self-evident. Our schools should give every student an equal shot at success — but recent research shows that every whiff of dirty air you breathe in hurts academic success,” Doug O’Malley, Director of Environment New Jersey, said.  “Fighting air pollution is most important to give students equal opportunity.”

“While we need to be doing much more to reduce air pollution nationally and ensure our schools – especially those serving predominantly students of color – are not placed in high pollution areas near major roads and highways, this bill is a common-sense way to deliver immediate help to students and their parents struggling every day with poor air quality in their schools,” said Booker.

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